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THE SPIRIT PAINTINGS 



BY 



W. J. NIXON 



AT) K.DITIfW) 



Edited by 
II. A. OS HORN K 



Foreword 



THOUGH THE THEME IS AN INTERESTING ONE NO 
ATTEMPT WILL BE MADE IN THE SUBSEQUENT 
PAGES TO TRACE THE ORIGIN AND DEVELOPMENT OF 
THE SPIRIT PAINTINGS. SO WIDELY AND SO VEHE- 
MENTLY HAS AN UNAVAILING WAR OF WORDS BEEN 
WAGED, PERTAINING TO THIS REMARKABLE ILLUSION, 
THAT IT WOULD BE EXCEEDINGLY UNWISE AT THIS TIME 
TO TRESPASS IN THIS DOMAIN. 

LET US, THEREFORE, CONFINE OUR ATTENTION TO 
THE MORE INTERESTING AND ENLIGHTENING TASK OF 
ANALYZING THE PROBLEM AS PRESENTED BY THE NOT- 
ABLY SUCCESSFUL PERFORMER WHO IS THE AUTHOR OF 
THIS EXPOSITION. 

SURELY, THE FACT THAT MR. NIXON PRESENTED 
THIS ACT FOR TWO ENTIRE SEASONS OVER THE LARGEST 
CIRCUITS IN THIS COUNTRY, IS WELL WORTHY OF YOUR 
CONSIDERATION. 

SHOULD YOU, THEN, AS IT IS BELIEVED YOU MOST 
ASSUREDLY WILL, GAIN FROM THE FOLLOWING PAGES A 
THOROUGH WORKING KNOWLEDGE OF THE MANNER OF 
ITS PRESENTATION AND THE METHOD OF ITS CONSTRUC- 
TION AND SHOULD YOU FIND IT IN YOUR HEART TO 
EXPRESS ADMIRATION FOR THE DELIGHTFUL AND ASTON- 
ISHING SIMPLICITY OF THE WHOLE, THEN INDEED WOULD 
OUR MISSION BE FULFILLED AND OUR MOST EARNEST 
DESIRE GRATIFIED. 

THE EDITOR. 



2082975 



Effect 

Let us imagine for a moment that we are passing before the 
lobby of a theatre and that we are attracted by display matter 
advertising the Spirit Paintings. We have heard much and 
read much of late concerning the research work of eminent 
scientists in the field of Psychical Phenomena. 

Prof. Hyslop, Dr. Flammarion, Dr. Hugo Munsterberg, 
Caesar Lambroso, and the Society of Psychical Research have 
devoted much time and energy to their investigation, often- 
times, 'tis true, arriving at widely different conclusions. 

Is it a wonder then that the "unknown" world casts its 
weird and fascinating spell over us? Do disembodied spirits 
exist and manifest themselves to man? Do they or can they 
paint upon a canvas with unseen fingers, in a few moments, 
subjects which took great masters years to complete? 

Our interest is aroused. We investigate still further. Oh 
yes! Here is a picture of the good Dr. Nixon, arch master of the 
spirits. We wonder whether they follow the Doctor about the 
country, ever ready at his call, or do you suppose he carries 
them as excess baggage or perchance in a strong box from which 
they are released when it is time for the act to go on. 

We speculate as to whether or not it took years to train 
them. Possibly, like the trained dogs, it is all done by kindness. 

But why this levity! Here is a clipping from a great city 
newspaper which speaks in awed tones of the baffling problem. 
Here is a testimonial from a master scientist who has wagged his 
wise head in perplexity. Here again is a testimonial of a club 
of magicians who have attended the performance and have 
failed even after summoning all their experience of the past to 
find a suitable solution. 

All this may be, but we, personally, are hard-headed and 
skeptical. Dr. Nixon will have to show us. We will view this 
little seance from our own angle. 

We, therefore, with just antagonism in our souls, slip one 
over on the house and buy a ticket for the performance, and 
thereby score the first engagement, a victory for the Spirit 
Paintings. 

About 9.30 we sit a bit straighter in our seats in anticipation 
of the opening of the Spirit Painting Act. The curtain rises 
slowly and we behold a large artist's frame or easel which we 
later learn is technically known as a "shadow box." The stage 
i? held by a charming little lady in the costume of a page. 

The performer makes his appearance in full dress, and in a 
few words explains that the apparatus used consists of a frame 
in which the canvas is to be placed and the shadow box serving 
as a container for both the frame and the canvas. We are then 
asked to observe the presence of a very powerful light placed 
directly behind the shadow box and which is to be used to more 
clearly delineate the development of the picture. He further 



calls our attention to several pure white canvases stretched upon 
the usual framework. 

In order that we may be persuaded that chicanery and sub- 
terfuge are not numbered among his accomplishments, he 
suggests that two large gummed labels be taken into the aud- 
ience to be autographed. One of these, we are informed, he 
proposes to stick on each of the two canvases selected, so that 
we may be quite assured of the fact that no exchanges are effected 
and, furthermore, that we may be positive that the spirit picture 
is actually materialized upon the face of the one selected. 

Two canvases are now placed in the frame. The one se- 
lected, properly identified by the presence of the autographed 
label, faces the audience while the second (one of those un- 
selected) is placed directly behind the first; thus all available 
space in the frame is occupied and the possibility of intro- 
ducing another canvas is precluded beyond question. 

We are now informed that subjects are required. Accord- 
ingly, a package of postal cards about 100 in number is 
brought forward and we are told that each represents a famous 
painting of one of the great masters. 

One at a time the cards are removed from the pile borne on 
a tray by an assistant and passed from the left to the right hand. 
The audience are told that they may indicate their choice 
verbally, by telling the performer when to stop as the cards are 
passing from hand to hand. 

As soon as the choice is indicated, the subjects are an- 
nounced and we are ready for the beginning of the seance. To- 
night we have chosen the well known subjects, "Miss Innocence" 
and "The Prince of Nassau." 

The arc light is now turned on while the house and stage 
lights are turned entirely out. 

The canvas now glows weirdly with a pure white light 
against a curtain of darkness. The assistant places her hand 
between the canvas and the light in order to demonstrate that 
everything is clear between these two vital points. The hand is 
clearly delineated in shadow on the highly illuminated canvas. We 
are now cautioned to concentrate our attention upon the change 
which weare toldisabout to take place upon the pure white surface. 

Closely we watch, and we are somewhat startled to note 
the slightest suggestion of light and shadow in the upper right 
hand corner of the canvas. Slowly light and shadow become 
color. But look! A similar phenomenon is at present taking 
place in the lower left corner and now in all portions, excepting 
the center, shades and colors are making their appearance a 
delicate pink here and the suggestion of azure blue there. And 
now there is a development in the central portion until the 
entire canvas is surfeited with a nebulous mass of color. From 
this chaotic mass is born the suggestion of forms and their out- 
line. Now we observe the delineation of features and the accurate 
registering of color, until before us completely developed, 



clearly marked in the most minute detail, is the incomparable 
masterpiece of Joshua Reynolds Miss Innocence. 

The house and stage is now illuminated, the canvas removed 
from the frame and brought forward for our inspection. The 
label is identified by the member of the audience by whom it was 
autographed. We are thus convinced beyond the possibility of 
argument that the painting has surely been developed on the 
canvas selected, and that no substitution has taken place. 

Truly, the unseen fingers have performed their ghostly work 
well and, after the manner of spirits, most mysteriously; for we 
are compelled at this moment to agree with Hamlet, "that truly 
there are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in 
our philosophy." 

We are told by the performer at this point, that, in order to 
circumvent any possible argument to the effect that the method 
of development might be photographic in nature, he will 
cause the instantaneous appearance of the second subject upon 
the canvas. Accordingly, the lights are turned out; immedi- 
iately on again. Incredible as it may seem, before us now, on 
the chosen canvas, is the finished painting of the Prince of 
Nassau, which is immediately removed and the autographed 
label presented as in the first instance. 

An additional test is now imposed by causing the gradual 
dematerialization of the painting. The features now become 
indistinct and all trace of outline slowly disappears. We have 
nothing left now but a heterogeneous mass of colors which 
gradually pass away until nothing remains but the pure white 
glowing canvas. 

For the last time the lights are again raised. The seance 
has ended. The performer, with a smile of confidence, bids us 
good-night and leaves us in a state of perplexity much more 
profound than when we were entirely uninitiated. 

We have been an eye witness to the effect, but what of the cause? 

Was it accomplished by spirit fingers or fingers directed by 
spirits? 

Let us become more prosaic and suggest the use of chemicals 
or mechanics. One principal seems to answer as well as another 
and we, too, feel that we may well add our names to those already 
enlisted in the great army of the perplexed. 

Of one important fact, however, we are quite positive. We 
know that we have been exceedingly well entertained and that 
we are very grateful to the good Doctor for a most pleasant and 
thoroughly absorbing quarter of an hour. 

Details of Construction 

In order that an intelligent understanding of the apparatus 
may be acquired to better prepare us to comprehend the refer- 
ences which follow, we consider it wise at this point to direct the 
reader's attention to the subsequent details of construction. 






The first object of interest is the shadow frame or box in 
which the frame containing the canvases is ultimately placed. 
This interesting piece of furniture is made use of by the artist to 
enable him to observe the effect of lights and shadows on his 
finished work. A reference to (Fig. I) will describe better 
than words its general construction and external characteris- 
tics. It should be noted, however, that the ends of the box are 
covered with black cloth which is slit two inches from front rail 
with laps facing the rear. This aperture allows the admission of 
the hand when necessary, (Fig. I-AP). Internally, however, the 
box is worthy of very close analysis. Across the top, front to rear, 
eight and one-half Cinches from each end runs a brass wire 5/16" 
in diameter. These perform the functions of rails, upon which 
the traveling carriage, soon to be described, rides. It is a matter 
of interest at this juncture to note that the point at which the 
wires are made fast on the front is 1/4" higher than the terminal 
points at the rear. Directly between the two wires is a grom- 
meted hole, through which runs the lines which operate the 
carriage, (Fig. I- A). This carriage is in nature, a frame 32 by 
48 inches inside measurement, constructed of 7/8 material 1" 
wide. The stops which are upright are constructed of 3/8" mater- 
ial 2" wide. Seven inches from each end of the carriage at the 
top is located a brass screw eye (Fig. Il-a and b) : and upon these, 
from the wires or rails, is suspended this carriage, (Fig. II.) 

On the rear side of each of the carriage uprights, (Fig. 2-c) 
attached centrally, is a metal hook approximately 5" long. There 
is 1" of space between return, while the return itself is 2" long. 
The function of these hooks is to securely retain the canvas in the 
carriage by securing it between the frame and the cloth. The 
description of the box is now complete save for a careful refer- 
ence to the diagram which clearly shows the method of the 
stringing which controls the operation of the carriage. 

It will be noted that the string marked "a b" when pulled 
moves the carriage towards the arc while "c d" carries it in the 
opposite direction. In order to facilitate this operation the two 
strings "a b" are joined at X and go away as one string while 
"c d" are joined at "y-" Hereafter, these strings will be called 
the controller. 

The frame proper, (Fig. Ill) measures 44" x 28" inside and is 
composed of material 6" x 7/8". On the back of this frame is the 
canvas retaining frame of 7/8" material 1" wide. Inside measur- 
ment 32" x 48". There is no cross piece at the top of the second 
frame. 

The light used is of the ordinary "flood" variety from one 
thousand to three thousand candle power. 

It is of course obvious that the controller must ultimately 
be in the hands of the assistant off stage, although at the time the 
shadow box is moved about during its demonstration, there must 
be no attachment which would compromise this movement. 

This is accomplished by rolling that portion of the string, 



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which is not employed within the box proper, into a compact 
parcel, that it may be hung upon a pin placed near the upper 
left hand back corner. (Fig. I-B). 

While turning on the light, the assistant removes the thread 
and hands it to the assistant off stage, covering the move with 
the body. 

The canvases measure 32" x 48". 

Now that the reader has become acquainted with the work- 
ing details of the apparatus his only task will be to follow closely 
the details of presentation. 



Details of Presentation 

Following a short preoration which concisely covers the 
developments about to take place the performer directs the 
attention of the audience toward the apparatus used. 

Frequently we will refer to the movements of two assistants, 
one on the stage and one off the stage. The former will be 
designated as No. 1 and the latter as No. 2. 

The first object of interest is the shadow box, which the 
audience is told is to be used for the reception of the frame and 
canvas. In order that it may be clearly understood that there 
is no concealed space or other questionable features it is turned 
completely about so that it may be seen from all sides. 

He next explains that the frame (Fig. Ill) is used to retain the 
chosen canvas. It is held during its introduction with reverse 
side toward the audience. (It is faced toward the audience when 
placed in shadow box.) At the conclusion of his remarks the 
performer steps around in front of the reverse side, lifts the 
frame and carries it to the shadow box against which it is rested. 

The lamp is used, so 'tis stated, to show the workings of the 
spirits after which it is placed two feet behind the shadow box 
and turned on and off that its powerful effect may be noted. 

This movement presents the desired opportunity for hand- 
ing the No. 2 assistant the controller. Therefore, as No. 1 
stoops to turn on the switch with right hand, the left is raised to 
the pin upon which the coiled line is resting. This is removed, 
passed to the left hand, which in its turn passes it to No. 2; the 
assistant off stage, who is awaiting its reception. This is not 
at all difficult for it will be remembered that the lamp is but two 
feet behind the shadow-box and but two feet in front of the back 
drop. (Fig. VI shows relative positions of apparatus). 

No. 2 is standing behind the back drop in a straight line 
with the light. The line is made fast to a safety pin inserted in 
the drop so that No. 2 may proceed to wing No. 1 for his next 
duty. His next duty is soon to be described. 



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Five white canvases, each stretched upon the usual wooden 
frame are next introduced. They are held fan wise by assist- 
ant No. 1, ends resting on stage. The selection of a canvas is 
then invited and the audience indicate their choice by the desig- 
nation of a number as 1, 2 or 3. The one selected is carried by 
the performer close to the foot-lights. The hand is held behind 
the canvas so that its shadow is clearly delineated. This step is 
designed to demonstrate clearly the absence of any preparation. 
It is then placed in the frame with its face toward the audience. 
It will be recalled that the ; frame is resting with its reverse side 
toward the audience and against the shadow box. 

A second canvas is next selected by the same method as 
followed with the first, and is carried to the foot-lights and the 
shadow cast by the hand noted. While this demonstration is 
taking place, assistant No. 1 retires with the three unselected, 
to wing No. 1 against which they are allowed to rest, allowing 
approximately three-quarters of the surfaces to be exposed to 
the audience. While assistant No. 1 is apparently adjusting the 
canvases, assistant No. 2, who is off stage at wing No. 1 holding 
the first subject to be materialized, face away from the audience 
pushes forward his, and steals away the hindmost canvas. 

Simultaneously assistant No. 1 picks up this subject canvas 
and walks toward frame and shadow box, in an apparently 
careless manner, yet concealing the subject by holding it in 
front of her. This canvas is put in the frame face against the 
face of the one already placed. While assistant No. 1 is walk- 
ing towards the frame the performer with the selected canvas, 
goes to wing No. 1 where it is placed across the ends of the two 
which remain at that point. 

Performer and assistant now lift the frame into the shadow 
box. (Subject is now at the rear.) This move throws subject into 
the traveling carriage. The hooks (Fig. II-CC) are dropped or 
adjusted so that they fall between canvas and framework along 
the side. This move has locked the subject securely in the 
carriage, while the left hand hooks frame to shadow box. (Use 
[AP] Fig. I for entrance to interior). The subject is now ready 
to be drawn to the rear of the shadow box by assistant No. 2 by 
means of the controller. He now pulls the string drawing the 
carriage to the rear of the box so that when the lights are all 
pulled off with the exception of the flood there will be no image 
cast on the front canvas. This much accomplished No. 1 
repairs to a property pedestal or table and procures a tray bear- 
ing labels, postals and pencils. 

The performer states that he now requires identification 
marks, and that for this purpose he will use gummed labels 
autographed by members of the audience. Accordingly he 
goes into the audience to obtain the signatures. These 
procured he returns to the stage and hands them to No. 1. No. 2 
proceeds immediately to the shadow box in which rest the two 
canvases selected, one at front, subject at rear. In his journey 

10 



ample opportunity is presented to enable her to shift the two 
autographed labels for two dummies. One dummy is pasted on 
the top rail of the canvas now facing the audience while the 
second is pasted on the second selected canvas at the wings. 
The two autographed labels are now in the possession of the assist- 
ant and are, at the proper time, to be applied to the painted can- 
vases. 

Subjects are now required. For this purpose about 100 
postal cards of famous paintings are utilized. It should be quite 
obvious that the first card must be forced to correspond to the 
subject now in the frame. The choice may be indicated by a 
verbal request to stop, as the cards are passing from the pile to 
the left, and thence to the right hand. The force may be effected 
by many different methods, the choice of which may better be left 
with the individual performer. The second is chosen at random 
after which the subjects are announced. The second one chosen 
is announced first,, that assistant No. 2 may know what subject 
he is to procure for later development. 

It is now stated that everything is in readiness for the 
materialization. Assistant No. 1 thereupon steps to the flood 
light and turns it on. While the right hand is engaged in turn- 
ing the switch the left places the autographed label upon the 
top rail of the subject canvas. 

At the cue "lights please!" the stage and house lights with 
the exception of the "flood" are darkened. The performer now 
passes between the lights and shadow box and calls attention to 
the shadow upon the canvas. This move, of course, is designed 
to obviate any impression that may exist to the effect that there 
may not be a clear line between lights and canvas. (Bear in 
mind that at this stage the traveling carriage is at the rear of 
the box). In other words, the painted canvas is too far away 
from the front canvas to cast upon it either an image or the 
suggestion of an image. The performer now begins to ask the 
audience to note the colors which are appearing in the upper 
right hand corner, and simultaneously assistant No. 2 begins to 
take up on the controller pulling the carriage forward toward 
the front canvas. As it approaches, more distinct become the 
colors and more clearly are outlines delineated. The performer 
and assistant, of course, synchronize word and action so that 
they blend perfectly up to the point of the complete develop- 
ment of the painting. 

So simple and yet so wonderful is the principle involved 
that it is really difficult to realize that it is responsible for the 
remarkable effect produced. 

If we state our principle in other words we would say, at a 
given distance the light shining through the painted canvas 
casts no image upon the one in front. When the distance is 
decreased and the painted canvas approaches the front canvas 
the more distinct becomes the image, until the maximum effect 
is obtained and the space between the two canvases eliminated. 

11 



From the foregoing it will be readily appreciated that the 
mechanical plot, what little there is, revolves about the travel- 
ing carriage and its movements backward and forw r ard. 

We must return, however, from our momentary digression 
and proceed with the movements of the performer after the 
development of the painting. It is his task now to convince his 
audience that a painting has in reality not only been materialized, 
but that it has been materialized upon the chosen canvas. 

Performer and assistant now proceed to shadow box and in 
the act of removing the frame and canvases therefrom, secretly 
release the canvas from the traveling carriage as well as perform- 
ing a similar action in relation to the frame and shadow box. 
This accomplished they remove the frame which is carried 
toward the foot lights, and the performer knocks the two 
canvases from their resting place within. 

After their removal the ends are turned toward the audience 
with the faces still close together. Under the mask of these 
movements assistant No. 1, who has been aiding in the work, 
has an opportunity to steal away the unautographed or fake label 
which the reader will remember was placed on the canvas selected 
by the audience as already described. The performer during 
these few moments has been describing his movements and 
slowly and cautiously by suggestion, has been carrying the mind 
away from the relative positions of the canvases. This is in 
preparation of the move which now takes place. The canvas 
from which the label has just been stolen is exhibited as the 
indifferent one and the attention of the audience is called to the 
fact that it is devoid of label. He now exhibits the other canvas, 
and states, "And here you will observe the finished painting 
upon the chosen canvas and you will further note that it bears 
the autographed label, proving to you conclusively that no 
exchange has been effected and that the materialization has 
positively taken place, beyond any possibility of doubt, upon 
the chosen canvas." 

This statement is so logical and so well substantiated by 
the evidence of the presence of the autographed label that a 
suspicion that a slight mistatement has been made does not 
enter the mind of the audience. 

So engrossed is the mind with the wonderful effect which 
has been produced that it does not, for a moment even, stumble 
upon the seemingly trivial fact concerning which painting was 
in front and which in back. So rapidly have developments 
taken place and so wonderful have been the effects produced 
that the mental process has been more rapid than analytical. 
The audience, of course, in answer to the final argument that 
the subject corresponds with that of the chosen postal have 
nothing left other than to give up the proverbial ghost. 

While the performer is engaged in exhibiting the painting, 
assistant No. 1 retires with the frame to the shadow box against 
which it is allowed to rest, reverse side toward the audience as 

12 



before. The selected canvas which has been resting at wing 
No. 1, as described, is next removed by the same assistant and 
carried to the frame and inserted. 

The statement is now made that the theory is often ad- 
vanced that the process of materialization is either photographic 
in nature or dependent upon the use of chemicals. In order to 
prove that such a method of procedure is not followed the per- 
former states that he will cause the instantaneous materializa- 
tion of the second chosen subject. 

The same steal and shift is executed as in the first instance 
and the subsequent moves made in exact duplication of those 
employed in the first materialization. 

As soon as the painted canvas is locked in the traveling 
carriage the assistant No. 2 takes up on controller and pulls it 
to the back of the shadow box. 

The house and stage lights are now extinguished with the 
exception of the "flood." The canvas, of course, shows only 
the pure white glow. Thus the audience is convinced that at 
present, at least, there is no painting in existance. The lights 
are again raised. Assistant No. 2 takes this immediate oppor- 
tunity to pull the carriage back to the frame by taking up on "y"- 

Once again the lights are lowered but this time with the 
result that the audience is greeted with the vision of the com- 
pleted masterpiece. 

A further test of interest may at this point be imposed by 
causing the slow and visible dematerialization of the painting. 
The modus operandi is, of course, simply the reverse of material- 
ization and does not need further exposition. If the dematerial- 
ization is utilized the finished canvas may be shown at the con- 
clusion, even without being again materialized. It is, of course, 
more logical to develop it once again. 

Perhaps the best method, however, is to remove it from 
the frame for exhibition purposes immediately after its instant- 
taneous materialization. 

After the close of the act the materialized paintings are 
carried to the lobby of the theatre where they are allowed to 
remain on exhibition as the audience files out after the close of 
the performance. And now we have concluded with the facts 
pertinent to the method of presentation and our task is near 
completion but there is certain data concerning the preparation 
of the paintings which are most emphatically important if the 
maximum effect is to be attained. We will, therefore, refer the 
reader to the following chapter: 

Suggestions 

The reader's close attention to the following material is 
most earnestly recommended for the facts noted have resulted 
from a vast amount of experimenting as well as two seasons of 
practical experience with the Spirit Painting Act. 

13 ' 



Instead of building canvas frames purchase 32"x48" mor- 
tised end, artist stretchers. 

Paste down the canvas edges to frame work and tack 
securely. 

Procure the brand of muslin known as "Indian Head" to 
paint upon. The cost is about 15 cents per yard. 

After this has been stretched upon the frame it must be 
sized. For this purpose use "rye-flour" sizing. In apylying use 
a tool with a blunt end forcing the size first into front and then 
into back of fabric. After this has been completed allow it to dry 
for twenty-four hours. 

As far as the paint is concerned use nothing but turpentine 
colors, taking care to use only opaque pigments. 

When applying these colors do not use any turpentine. 

Be sure that all colors are ground in oil. While the colors 
are wet see that they are rubbed well into the cloth. 

The artist should outline or sketch in the painting with a 
hair line brush and blue paint. 

Around the edge of the canvas paint in a 2" marginal line 
using a preparation of whiting and alcohol. 

For the controller use an 18 Ib. fish line. It is sufficiently 
strong to carry the required load. 

Should you find in some instances that the colors show 
through on the reverse side of the muslin, it will be necessary to 
use double thickness. 

The number of subjects which the average act playing 
vaudeville will require is not less than twenty-five. This avoids 
repetition. 



We have made every effort in the foregoing pages to make 
this explanation thoroughly intelligible and we trust that we 
have not striven in vain, and we also cherish the hope that the 
reader's task of following our work has been as pleasure-giving 
and as instructive as its preparation has been to us. 



14